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Pitching depth a wealthy Bulldog baseball asset

Conventional baseball wisdom says you can’t have enough good pitching.

District 4-AAA opponents of Bearden might beg to differ: way too much good pitching in Bulldog Country for 2008.

Bulldog head coach Matt Buckner is high on his top five pitchers strewn among a strong senior class.

“I think they’ve all pitched about 50-plus innings in high school, at least,” said Buckner, in his fifth season at BHS with a 96-52 overall record highlighted by the 2006 district tourney crown. “And all of ’em have had some success. Pretty strong, pretty talented group.”

Senior pitcher Andy Fennell, All-Region 2-AAA and All-District 4-AAA honoree last season and staff ace the past two years, currently is starting point guard on a BHS hoops team looking for a state tourney berth (see page 1).

“He’s pretty solid, I feel like he’s going to have a really big year,” Buckner said of Fennell. “He’s a fastball, curveball guy. A tough competitor.”

Hunter Daniel, a UT signee, joins other Bulldog arms Taylor Gouffon, an East Tennessee State signee, southpaw Josh Hullett, who’s headed to Milligan College, and junior lefty Garrett Copeland.

Buckner said Daniel, a lefty, “competes real well, has great mound presence. He’s a fastball, change-up guy with a little bit of a curveball.”

The BHS skipper labels Gouffon “a pretty hard throwing right-hander. Kinda throws three-quarter arm, a little slider. He had a really excellent summer.”

Hullett “is the definition of a crafty lefty,” Buckner said. “Low 80s [mph]. Has a breaking ball. Tough, competitive.”

Juniors Ryan Potter and Raheel Mansoor “add more depth to our staff,” Buckner said. Sophomore Daniel Hullett is another arm to watch.

One concern is the health of Copeland, who’s been recovering from labrum [shoulder] surgery last summer. Copeland, the 2007 designated hitter, was unavailable to pitch last year due to his shoulder injury. “Getting him back to a hundred percent really will add depth to our staff,” Buckner said.

Copeland, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, was 8-1 as a BHS freshman in 2006.

A bullpen guy? “Maybe Copeland, but a lot of everybody, really,” Buckner said. “I’ll use everybody in a lot of spots. Potter and Mansoor may fill this role. There’s not a specific-type guy.”

Concerns? “I have to say I hope our infield defense is not an issue,” Buckner said. “Our hitting and defense are not as strong as our pitching.”

Senior catcher Jonathan Byrd, a Hiwassee College signee [junior college, Madisonville] who earned All-District honors last year, “is a good leader, had a good year at the plate last year,” the coach said. “Good defensive catcher, good overall player.”

Senior Bryant Walker, starting third baseman, led BHS in hitting last year and earned All-District honors. He moves over from first base. “Hopefully that’ll be a smooth transition,” Buckner said.

First base will be the “whoever’s not pitching position,” with Daniel, Copeland and Gouffon. “All three of ’em are pretty big, and Hunter is an excellent first baseman,” Buckner said.

Second base was, as of late February, a battle in which Buckner said senior Dylan Highsmith was leading. “Behind him, probably Kamryn Roach [senior] and Sean Greenway [junior],” the coach said. “I think Dylan’s going to be a good defensive guy for us.”

With standout Justin Miller graduating, shortstop duties now belong to junior Ryan Ford. “I think he’s going to be our newcomer of the year,” Buckner said. “He’s got excellent skills, a scrappy player. Good arm, runs well.”

Senior Dawson Halliday, the starter in left field, earned All-District honors in 2007. “Excellent leader, probably going to be a middle-of-the-order hitter for us,” Buckner said. “Maybe a better baseball player than football, runs well, big, strong, hits well. He should have a big year.”

Center field will be manned by senior Matthew Scruggs, a two-year starter. “He’ll probably anchor our outfield defense,” Buckner said. “Excellent outfielder, covers a lot of ground.”

Copeland will start in right field when not pitching, with Gouffon and Daniel backing up.

Other Bulldogs looking to contribute are catcher Mark Lail, outfielder Jonathan Elmore, catcher Jacob Edwards, pitcher Matt Hoffman and outfielder Patrick Dalton.

Bearden is coming off a 31-9 season in 2007 where they were eliminated in 4-AAA tourney play.

“I feel pretty good about our group,” Buckner said. “Ten seniors, a solid core group, they’ve been together a long time. Some pretty good leaders, Dawson Halliday, Jonathan Byrd, Hunter Daniel. ... I’m pretty confident and excited about the season.

“They themselves have high expectations,” the coach added.

Daniel, a team captain, said “our ultimate goal is to win the state championship.”

Byrd, the other team captain, said his ’Dawgs are “a good base-hitting team. Got a lot of speed.”

Assistant coaches are Mitch Carter, Jack Tate, Buddy Wilker and Steve Jones.


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